Misguided motivation: Coach fired for inflammatory fliers

Sunday Times Newspapers

MELVINDALE – Dennis Howard Jr., assistant varsity football coach at Melvindale High School, was removed from his volunteer position by the Melvindale-Northern Allen Park Board of Education Monday night.

Head coach Phil Howard, his brother, will be permitted to complete the season and take his team to the playoffs, subject to further post-season investigation.

Phil Howard got plenty of support from his team at Monday night’s board meeting. In a gesture of solidarity the varsity football players threw their jerseys in a pile and said they would not play in the high school playoff games if their head coach were not allowed to be with them through the playoffs.

Howard Jr. was removed from contact with players following Oct. 16, when he posted inflammatory fliers in the team locker room prior to a home game against Wyandotte Roosevelt High School. The fliers allegedly said Roosevelt head football coach Ron Adams had made demeaning and racist remarks about Melvindale’s football team at a coaches’ conference prior to this year’s season.

Howard Jr. has admitted to putting the fliers in his team’s locker room before its game against Roosevelt Oct. 16, telling reporters that he was “extremely offended” by Adams’ alleged comments, saying that there were witnesses, and that he wanted his players to be aware of the environment in which the game would be played.

Adams has denied all of the accusations, and his school administrators have defended him staunchly.

“Our coach, Ron Adams, is well respected in the football and coaching fields,” said Wyandotte Supt. Patricia Cole, adding that Mel-NAP’s superintendent, Cora Kelly, and Board of Education have “handled things appropriately, by investigating and taking care of the problem.”

The decision to remove Howard Jr. was 6-0, with the coaches’ mother, school board Secretary Vivian Howard, abstaining. She did vote in support of her sons in three subsequent votes before the board finally decided to allow Phil Howard to coach through the end of the season.

“We hate that our school district and coach (last year’s teacher of the year by Rotary) have had our names dragged through the media for speculation, but everyone who knows Coach Adams or of him, respects, likes and admires Ron Adams,” Cole said in an e-mail statement to the Times-Herald. “He is very professional and an excellent role model for students.

“He has been personally hurt by the comments because he had regarded some of the Mel-NAP coaches to be friends for many years and can’t believe that they would use this type of hype to ‘motivate’ kids. The team would have won with just plain, good, professional coaching. Obviously, the coach who did this made a mistake.”

Kelly reportedly apologized for the incident to Adams and to Cole.

According to published reports, the top of the flier reads “Wyandotte Head Football Coach Ron Adams” in large type. Six statements in quotation marks follow. “Disrespect” and “Beat Respect Into Them” also appear in larger font in capital letters across the bottom of the flier.

The flier describes Adams as saying the following:
• “You’re not physical enough to play in this league.”
• “A spread (offense) football team can’t be a physical football team.”
• “You will regret being in this league by week five.”
• “I will take my big Polish kids over your little fast (n——) any day.”
• “What are you going to do when my BIG Polish kid runs right over your little (n—–)?”
• “Melvindale can’t hang with teams like Wyandotte, Southgate and Allen Park.”

Kelly also reportedly said she believes there was a misguided effort to motivate the team.

Adams was an assistant football coach in Melvindale in the 1990s. He has told reporters he has great respect for the program is not considering legal action.

Varsity players and parents spoke on behalf of the Howards at the Monday night meeting. Parents mentioned the coaches’ efforts to get college scholarships for players who otherwise might not be able to afford college.

Assistant coach Willie Delbridge, the only black coach on the Melvindale football staff, spoke up at the meeting, and said in published reports that his group is cohesive and without prejudice.

Melvindale (9-0) was scheduled to host the Michigan High School Athletic Assocation Division 3 Region 4 district semifinal game Friday against Divine Child (5-4). Police said they would be on hand.

“We always have guys at the game,” Melvindale Detective Gary Bowerman said. “That’s standard procedure.”